Amber Lane Roberts got her first camera when she was 7 years old and began shooting professionally at age 23, in 2009. Roberts says she’s shot “everything” — football games, events at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, weddings, families and newborns — but boudoir photography “always came the easiest” for her. She now focuses exclusively on boudoir, and in September 2017, after first shooting sessions out of her home, Roberts opened Amber Lane Photo on Commerce Avenue in downtown Russellville.
Her office and studio are in a cozy two-story brick building, and her models gaze out to the sidewalk from photos hung in the front windows, along with a few houseplants and a tomato plant reaching for the sun. It’s immediately welcoming and approachable, and Roberts is no different.
“I hug everyone who walks through the door,” Roberts said. “[People] get so nervous when they walk in the door, and I say, ‘You’ve done the hardest part. You walked in the door. You’re here.’ ”
Boudoir photography, named for the French word for “bedroom,” is inherently intimate. Roberts’ subjects, most of them women, wear lingerie — and sometimes, nothing at all — in photos that celebrate their bodies, including boudoir-style maternity photoshoots. While stripping down in front of a stranger can be intimidating, Roberts said she and her stylist, Jasmina Norris, work to ensure their clients feel as comfortable and confident as possible.
“I have an appreciation for all bodies. I find a lot of beauty in normal, mundane things, and I think that women especially are so gorgeous and so different, and I’m just in love with shooting them,” Roberts said. “Bodies all look different, and it’s really OK. People come in and apologize to me for the most ridiculous, normal things about their bodies. I’m like, ‘Wow, you’re really obsessing over nothing. Let’s not worry about this.’ ”
Roberts said she only schedules one session a day so her clients can have her undivided attention. Each shoot lasts for about 4 hours. At least an hour of that time is allotted for Norris to do the client’s hair and makeup, which is included in the cost of a session. Roberts said she and Norris use this time to get to know the client and help boost her confidence about the shoot.
“We’re very hype women, but [our comments are] genuine,” Roberts said. “You can tell it’s genuine, you can tell we’re not just saying it to say it. And if anyone says that to me, I’m just like, ‘Now listen. I actually don’t have to say any of this. Do I look like a person who would waste my own time?’ ”
Roberts keeps several kimonos, dressing gowns, boas, tiaras and “all the pearls in the world” on hand for her shoots, but clients are asked to bring their own lingerie and encouraged to bring other personal items, such as a favorite dress or pair of cozy socks, to add their own flair to the photos.
“I like when people bring personal things,” Roberts said. “Bring your or your partner’s favorite band’s T. That’s you, you brought that in. I’ve had people bring in paintings, [and] someone [once] brought in a wrench and her husband’s mechanic shirt.”
Roberts poses the client in a variety of outfits and positions. After the shoot, Roberts said she sits down and shows them a few unedited photos from the session. It’s these moments, during which clients begin to see themselves as Roberts sees them, that the photographer finds most rewarding.
“You see that reaction where they’re like, ‘Oh, my God.’ It’s so validating,” Roberts said. “It’s so great, because I’ve seen it the whole time.”
These back-to-back hours of undivided attention and encouragement often have a profound effect on Roberts’ clients, one that she says lasts long after the shoot.
“It’s so great because it’s not just, ‘Come and spend some money and put makeup on and get pictures done.’ ” Roberts said. “It’s something that really carries over. It’s not something like, ‘Well, I only looked good in those photos because Jasmina is a magician wizard woman, and Amber knows how to pose you properly.’ … That person goes on and they feel better about themselves.”
To perpetuate good feelings and provide a safe space for her clients and other feminine-identifying people to express themselves, Roberts created the private Facebook group “Amber’s Gems: Empowered Women of Arkansas.” She said she wants the group to be a positive place where women can share selfies and successes and participate in a supportive community.
“It’s like when you go to a women’s bar bathroom and it’s 1 a.m.,” Roberts said. “That’s the group 24/7. I ask them questions, little writing prompts, and these people get to talk about themselves.”
Roberts has hosted parties and meet-ups for group members, and as a result, many of her “Gems” have become friends offline. Roberts says one of her goals for the next year is to throw more events and continue cultivating the Gem community, as it’s been “instrumental” to her business.
Roberts also hopes to do more stylized photo shoots — including some “dude-oir” sessions, which involve more masculine takes on intimate photography. Ultimately, she just wants to keep going.
“Really, I just want to maintain. This has blown up on me so quickly,” Roberts said. “When I was [shooting] out of my house, I would maybe shoot once or twice a month. Here, this month, I have four shoots every week. … It’s so crazy to me that so many people have been so receptive of it.”
While Roberts is quick to issue confidence-boosting praise to her clients, she said it can be difficult to turn that positivity inward.
“It’s easy for me to deflect [compliments] because it’s really easy for me to say, ‘But look at you, look at what you did.’ And then I don’t have to take the brunt of the ‘look-at-me’s,’ ” Roberts said. Though Roberts has bright green hair, she said she doesn’t “like as much attention as you would think.”
Roberts said her care for her clients is at the root of what she does, and she understands this is what keeps them returning to her, session after session.
“[Clients] just want to trust you, and they just want to have a friend that sees them and cares for them and shows them something that they haven’t seen before,” Roberts said. “Even the bubbliest people need that. It’s really cool, I’m really lucky, and I hope that I can keep doing this.”